Oprah Winfrey erupts in HBO's powerful 'Henrietta Lacks'

The HBO film premieres later this month, and Winfrey admits she has just one regret as it prepares to hit the small screen. "But hearing someone else talk about their beatings, I could have great empathy, great compassion, great sorrow and sadness".

The film, which premieres Saturday at 8 p.m. EDT, is based on the best-seller by Rebecca Skloot.

HBO's production, which stars Oprah and Rose Byrne, brings to life the riveting story of a poor Southern tobacco farmer whose cells would become one of the most significant tools in modern medicine. "But her HeLa cells were unbelievably powerful".

The name Henrietta Lacks may not be well-known, but her impact on the medical community is long-lasting.

On what about this role caught her attention, Rose Byrne says: "I was intrigued". "It comes from a genuine spirit of enthusiasm". So I thought when I read the book, "Wow, if I don't know this story, I'm sure that there are many many other people who also don't know". "There's a power to her and a ferocity to her". By design, the audience knows only as much about Henrietta as Deborah does.

So it's actually the stories of two women, separated by death. She went on to receive an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Pittsburgh. It wasn't until the 1970s that the name Henrietta Lacks became a well-known part of the story. "But the movie is also about taking this person from abstraction and claiming this person as a tangible human being. I can not be amusing on the spot, but if you ever spend more than 10 minutes with me privately, it would be, you would be on the floor in hysterics", she insisted. "Her thing was not about the money", she says of Deborah. "I did not want to do it". In a 2010 Popular Science article, Rebecca Skloot - author of the bestseller that inspired the film - called Henrietta "the most important woman in medical history".

"She wanted nothing more than the story to go out into the world", Skloot says.

WATCH: Reese Witherspoon Dishes on What It's Like to Make a Movie With Oprah Winfrey: 'She'd Do the Voice!' . And though it's made with all the good intentions in the world, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" feels rushed and cramped. Skloot's prodigious reporting in her book brought the story of Lacks' cells, and her family's struggle to recover their mother's legacy, before the public consciousness. "When I was on set and saw her in costume, Oprah ceased to be Oprah".

The film was shot last summer in the Atlanta area, plus a few days on location at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Byrne, who only recently had a baby, was inclined to pass on the role, but the film revealed the relationship between a reporter and subject so freshly she couldn't. "I could have missed my calling". "But I do think art is effective in getting the ball rolling and shifting culture in one way or another". Lacks was a 31-year-old African American woman who was descended from slaves. The three stars joined "CBS This Morning" Tuesday to discuss Lacks' incredible contribution to science and how her story came to light.

"It was intimidating for me", Byrne adds.

And it's a story built for Winfrey, who plays Deborah Lacks, the daughter of the title character. Frankly, I didn't know and I lived in Baltimore all those years. Ultimately, though, she says, she's grateful there was another journalist to piece together this key bit of scientific history.

Deborah was just a toddler when her mother died of cancer in 1951.

  • Salvatore Jensen